The silence of late night is not really a silence. If one listens carefully, so many different strands of sound slowly start to reveal their identities. Standing under the inverted bowl of a black night sky, I listen.
First comes the incessant music of the crickets. Various voices, pitches and tones. Some loud and insistent. Some subdued. I remember with surprise that I have never really heard the crickets since I was a child. Crickets and fireflies need wilderness and darkness, which our cities have taken away both from them and from us.
The earth lies in folds here. There is always one Tilla (rise) to complement a Loonga (depression). (Both are however are in imminent danger of extinction and would soon become level ground to cope with the pressure of housing; I’d give them another ten years, at the most.) The Loongas are veritable tangled forests, where no braveheart dares to go.
When I walk at night with my son, my eyes are totally trained on the earth, not because I am particularly demure or am living in a Taliban ruled country, where a woman is not permitted to look a man in the eye, but for the simple reason that I do not wish to have a disastrous rendezvous with night travellers from the Loongas, who unlike me, are equipped with poisonous fangs. But the night music from these dangerous zones is mesmerizing, incessant and undulating. I wonder what is it that they have to say to each other, each night. I long to understand the language of the crickets.
The Cicadas were less in evidence this year; they come into their element immediately after the winter cold recedes. For such small creatures their decibel level is quite deafening- still I missed them and for a long time kept hoping for cicada encounters, only to be disappointed.
The tall trees towering inside and over the Loongas are home to a thriving bat colony. The bats have a daily routine of wheeling-dealing-free-for-all on early mornings and evenings. They have wingspans comparable to that of the Indian Jungle Crow, which is not a small bird. The bats also are great at communication; the sky is filled both these times with literally hundreds of hunting bats, who seem to become afflicted with talkativeness as well as restlessness.
Then there are the winged ones of the night- Owls are sacred birds; sacred to goddesses of the East and ancient Egypt. They have a peculiar unnerving and unblinking stare that seems to see right into the soul, which probably contributed to the sacredness. They sit silently in utter stillness and then suddenly swoop down and up in one single fluid, graceful moment.
There seems to be multiple species of owls here, to judge from their hoots and the feathers I find lying on the ground. Most of the nights in July and August I am forced to fall asleep to the sound of what can only be described as communication via wild screeches.
The darkness settles comfortably like a warm and scented wrap- the summer air is wet on most evenings, thanks to the Indian monsoon, and is perfumed by the night flowering jasmine and frangipani. The land sleeps and slowly, the inhabitants too.